A lawyer defending Fresno paralegal Brian Waldron against a murder charge asked a jury Tuesday: What does a man do when he finds himself attacked in his home by a Bulldog gang member who is high on drugs and alcohol?
Waldron responded by beating Jonathan Taylor with a tire iron, cutting up the body so it could fit in two suitcases, and burying the remains in a shallow grave in the mountains, defense attorney James Lambe said.
In an opening statement in Waldron's trial in Fresno County Superior Court, Lambe and prosecutor Robert Romanacce agreed that the defendant voluntarily gave police a detailed account of how he killed Taylor five years ago and led detectives to the buried remains near Courtright Reservoir.
What's in dispute is whether his actions constituted cold-blooded murder or an act of self-defense.
If convicted of murder, the 55-year-old Waldron faces life in prison.
Taylor was 21 when he was killed inside Waldron's apartment on East Fountain Way near Maple and Shields avenues on Oct. 24, 2008.
The 5-foot-7-inch, 140-pound Taylor was much smaller than the 6-foot, 175-pound Waldron, court records show.
In his interview with police, Waldron told detectives that Taylor instigated the fight by grabbing a flashlight and swinging it at him. In a struggle, Waldron said he feared for his life when he killed Taylor with a metal pipe.
Waldron was charged with murder because he didn't call 911 after the killing and had cleaned up the bloody mess inside his apartment before surrendering to police. He also put charcoal on the remains to mask the smell.
In opening statements, Romanacce went into gory detail about how Waldron beat Taylor with a pipe or a tire iron. The blows were so hard, Taylor's blood hit the ceiling of Waldron's apartment, he said.
"He beat the hell out of him," Romanacce said. "That's his words."
Waldron then dragged the body to a bathtub and used a knife and tree saw for dismembering. He "chopped off the head, chopped off the arms and chopped off the legs," Romanacce told the jury.
But Lambe said the reason Waldron dismembered Taylor's body was because he feared Taylor's gang friends would find out about the killing and then kill him and his family and friends. Lambe also said Waldron had a bad back so he couldn't lift a body.
Lambe described Taylor as a violent gang member who had a tendency to threaten police -- even armed officers.
Though Taylor wasn't a validated gang member, he had a gang tattoo on his face to show his allegiance to the Pinedale Bulldogs, Lambe told the jury.
He also had a shaved head and dressed like a gang member, Lambe said.
Both sides agreed that Taylor was killed on the same day he was released from prison. Court records show that in May 2007 Taylor pleaded guilty to the unlawful taking or driving of a car and was sentenced to prison.
At the time of his death, Taylor's blood-alcohol was .14, nearly twice the legal limit to drive, and he also had a high level of methamphetamines in his body, Lambe said.
As a paralegal, Waldron worked for criminal defense lawyer David Mugridge on high-profile cases involving gangs and murders, Lambe said. Outside work, Waldron was a loner who liked to read science fiction, listen to music and get drunk, Lambe said.
On the day of the killing, Waldron was drinking corn whiskey, smoking cigarettes and listening to Bob Dylan's "Highway 61 Revisited," according to his police interview.
Romanacce told jurors that they will get to see the videotaped interview in which Waldron shows detectives his bandaged hand and quickly confesses: "He tried to jack me and I killed him."
Waldron then goes into details, telling the detectives he was minding his own business when he noticed Taylor lurking outside his apartment. Taylor's mother lived in the same apartment complex, and she had learned that her son had been barred from the complex, Lambe said. When he came to visit her, she didn't let him in her apartment because she feared being evicted, he said.
In the police interview, Waldron said he noticed Taylor had a gang tattoo on his cheek. He said Taylor walked into his apartment without permission and sat down in the living room.
Waldron told detectives that Taylor bugged him for a cigarette and liquor and wouldn't leave. Taylor also lit matches and threw them on the carpet, Waldron said.
"He wants to call police but he's afraid Taylor would get angry," Lambe said.
Because he feared Taylor's friends might burst into the apartment, Waldron locked the front door, Lambe told the juror.
In the police interview, Waldron said Taylor started the fight by grabbing a long, metal flashlight off a table. He swung it at Waldron but missed, he said.
In a struggle, Waldron said he took the flashlight from Taylor and then beat Taylor in the head with what he described as a metal pipe.
"Waldron orders Taylor to stay down, but he won't because he's amped up on meth," Lambe told the jury. Lambe said the evidence will show that Taylor was actually killed with a tire iron.
With Taylor dead in the living room, Waldron starts visualizing patrol cars with lights and sirens coming to his apartment, Lambe said. He's scared that his apartment will be on television and every Bulldog gang member in Fresno will find out where he lives, Lambe said.
It was then that Waldron "makes the fateful decision to cut up the body and hide it," Lambe said.
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